The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T.

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The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T.
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRoy Rowland
Screenplay byDr. Seuss
Allan Scott
Based onStory and conception by Dr. Seuss
Produced byStanley Kramer
StarringPeter Lind Hayes
Mary Healy
Hans Conried
Tommy Rettig
CinematographyFrank Planer A.S.C.
Edited byAl Clark, A.C.E.
Music byFrederick Hollander
Color processTechnicolor
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • July 1, 1953 (1953-07-01)
Running time
92 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$2.75 million[1]

The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T. is a 1953 American musical fantasy film about a boy who dreams himself into a fantasy world ruled by a diabolical piano teacher enslaving children to practice piano forever. It was the only feature film written by Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss), who wrote the story, screenplay, and lyrics. It was directed by Roy Rowland, with many uncredited takes directed by producer Stanley Kramer. The film stars Peter Lind Hayes, Mary Healy, Hans Conried, and Tommy Rettig.


Young Bart Collins (Tommy Rettig) lives with his widowed mother Heloise (Mary Healy). The bane of Bart's existence is the hated piano lessons he endures under the tutelage of the autocratic Dr. Terwilliker (Hans Conried). Bart feels that his mother has fallen under Terwilliker's influence, and gripes to their plumber, August Zabladowski (Peter Lind Hayes), without result. While hammering at his lessons, Bart dozes off and enters a musical dream.

In the dream, Bart is trapped at the surreal Terwilliker Institute, where the piano teacher is a madman dictator who has imprisoned non-piano-playing musicians. He built a piano so large that it requires Bart and 499 other boys (hence, 5,000 fingers) to play it. Bart's mother has become Terwilliker's hypnotized assistant and bride-to-be, and Bart must dodge the Institute's guards as he scrambles to save his mother and himself. He tries to recruit Mr. Zabladowski, who was hired to install the Institute's sinks ahead of a vital inspection, but only after skepticism and foot-dragging is Zabladowski convinced to help. Having convinced him, Bart and Zabladowski free Heloise and attempt to flee, but are captured. In the dungeon, the two construct a noise-sucking contraption which ruins the mega-piano's opening concert. The enslaved boys run riot, and the "atomic" noise-sucker explodes in spectacular fashion, bringing Bart out from his dream.

The movie ends on a hopeful note for Bart, when Mr. Zabladowski notices Heloise and offers to drive her to town in his jeep. Bart escapes from the piano and runs down the street to play, with his dog Sport joyfully capering at his heels.


Uncredited (in order of appearance)[edit]


In the wake of the success of Gerald McBoing-Boing, Geisel submitted a live-action storyline for The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T. in 1951.[1] Geisel followed it up with a 1200-page script, with "themes of world dominance and oppression coming out of World War II."[1] Geisel relocated from La Jolla, California, to Los Angeles during filming to "enable him to be more involved in the production."[1] His influence on set design and choreography is also evident in the film.

Although Geisel was unaware of it at the time, his film production had landed in the middle of a bitter feud between film producer Stanley Kramer and the head of Columbia Pictures, Harry Cohn. Thus the shooting of the film was fraught from the start. Kramer had been forbidden from directing the movie himself by Cohn, and instead had appointed a studio journeyman, Roy Rowland. It also did not help that Cohn interfered constantly with the production by sending voluminous and unwanted notes to Kramer and Geisel.[2]

Hans Conried was enthusiastic about the role, saying in retrospect, "I had never had any such part before, never have since and probably never will again. We rehearsed for eight weeks before I was engaged to shoot for eight weeks, an extravagance that I as a bit player had never known ... If it had been a success, with my prominent part in the title role, it would have changed my life."[1]

Prior to release, a "preview version" was received poorly by a test audience. This prompted heavy cuts from the studio and a week of reshoots included a new opening scene. Of the original 20 musical numbers filmed in their entirety, 9 were removed. The removed songs still survive with the complete musical soundtrack.[3] The "preview version" featuring the removed footage is considered lost. Columbia Pictures released the film a second time in 1958 with the whole elevator scene cut, under the title Crazy Music.[4]

Musical score[edit]

The score was composed by Frederick Hollander with lyrics by Dr. Seuss. It earned an Oscar nomination for "Best Scoring of a Musical Picture".[1]

The singing voice of Tommy Rettig was dubbed by Tony Butala,[5] the founder of The Lettermen.

The pre-recorded piano parts were performed uncredited by veteran Hollywood studio session pianist Ray Turner (1903-1971), who was known to the public for his own recordings, and for his piano performance on the popular 1948 children's album Sparky's Magic Piano.

Musical numbers[edit]

Theatrical cut:

  1. "Opening Credits / Butterfly Ballet" — Dream Sequence
  2. "Ten Happy Fingers"
  3. "Piano Concerto (Ten Happy Fingers variation)"
  4. "Dream Stuff"
  5. "Hypnotic Duel"
  6. "Get Together Weather"
  7. "Because We're Kids"
  8. "Dungeon Ballet"
  9. "We Are Victorious"
  10. "Dressing Song / Do-Mi-Do Duds"
  11. "End Credits"[6]

Original "preview" version:

  1. "Overture/Main Title"
  2. "Ten Happy Fingers"
  3. "Piano Concerto (Ten Happy Fingers variation)"
  4. "Oh! We Are the Guards"
  5. "Many Questions"
  6. "My Favorite Note"
  7. "Dungeon Ballet"
  8. "Grindstone"
  9. "I Will Not Get Involved"
  10. "Dream Stuff"
  11. "I Won't Go to Bed/Massage Opera"
  12. "You Opened My Eyes"
  13. "Hypnotic Duel"
  14. "Because We're Kids"
  15. "Money"
  16. "Freckle on a Pygmy"
  17. "Butterfly Ballet"
  18. "We Are Victorious"
  19. "Dressing Song / Do-Mi-Do Duds"
  20. "End Credits"[7]


At the Hollywood premiere, the first patrons began to trickle out after 15 minutes. After an hour it had become a tsunami. The leading man Hans Conried was quoted as saying by biographer Suzanne Gargiulo, "At the end there was only one boy left and he was waiting for his mother to pick him up".[8] At the time it was released, the film received negative reviews from critics.[9] Bosley Crowther called the film "strange and confused" and said:[10]

this [film] is not only abstruse in its symbols and in its vast elaboration of reveries but [is] also dismally lacking in the humor or the enchantment such an item should contain.

Geisel regarded the film as a "debaculous fiasco" and omitted mention of it in his official biography.[11] He even stated after the film "Hollywood is not suited for me and I am not suited for it."

Hans Conried reflected on the film's boxoffice failure in a 1970 interview with Leonard Maltin: "The picture never made its print money back. It was comparable only to Wilson as one of the great money-losers of all time; it would stop conversation for some years at any Hollywood social gathering."[12]

21st century[edit]

The film may have fared better over the years; as of April 28, 2022, it has a 82% positive Rotten Tomatoes rating.[13]

The home media releases of the film have spawned many new reviews. In 2001, Glenn Erickson wrote that the film was "another flop that has since gained the reputation of an artsy classic - a real cult film. It's colorful, energetic, and indeed can boast fine work by a cadre of talented Hollywoodians. But it's not very good."[14] Later critics were more enthusiastic. In 2002, Peter Bradshaw said the film "has charm, a riotous imagination, and some very weird dream-like sets by production designer Rudolph Sternad and art director Cary Odell"; it's "surreal, disturbing, strong meat for young stomachs."[15] In 2005, Violet Glaze of the Baltimore City Paper called the film "refreshingly tart and defiant for a children's film, its space-age-by-way-of-Caligari world parks right on the delicious side of creepy. Bring the kids, especially the smart ones."[16] In 2008, Dennis Schwartz wrote that it was "probably the best children's fantasy film ever made by Hollywood—even if it's rambling."[17] Jello Biafra named it his all-time favourite movie in a 2013 interview.

Home media[edit]

The film was released by RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video in 1991. It was then re-released in 1995, as part of the Columbia Tristar family collection. It became available on DVD in 2001 by Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment. It featured the Gerald McBoing-Boing short, Gerald McBoing-Boing's Symphony, as a bonus feature. Sony then re-released the DVD in 2008 as part of the Stanley Kramer collection. Finally, it was released as a region 1 Blu-Ray and DVD in 2016 by Mill Creek Entertainment, under licence from Sony.[18]


The music that was composed for the film, including material that was not used in the extant copies of the film itself, was released as a set of 3 CDs in 2010.[3][19] In 2007, a soundtrack CD (ACMEM126CD) was released by Él Records in association with Cherry Red Records.[6][20]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Quin, Eleanor. "The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T (1953)". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 2014-08-02.
  2. ^ Empire magazine; May 2023 issue; pages 91–92
  3. ^ a b Lunden, Jeff (January 15, 2011). "'5000 Fingers' Sings Again: A Seuss Rarity Revisited". National Public Radio. singer Michael Feinstein, who's such a fan of the movie that he spent the past 30 years gathering every scrap of music ever recorded for it — enough material to fill three CDs. And now, 57 years after its premiere, the definitive soundtrack of this kooky cult classic has finally been released. Transcript of story from the program "Weekend Edition Saturday".
  4. ^ Gargiulo, Suzanne (2002). "Peter Pan, the Twonky, and Dr. T.". Hans Conried: A Biography; With a Filmography and a Listing of Radio, Television, Stage and Voice Work. McFarland. p. 90. ISBN 9780786413386.
  5. ^ Davies, Bill. "5000 Fingers of Dr. T Documentary". YouTube. Archived from the original on 2021-12-12. Retrieved 3 November 2016.
  6. ^ a b See the review of the 2007 CD: Eder, Bruce (2007). "The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T — Songs and Music from the Original Soundtrack". AllMusic.
  7. ^ "The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T (lost original cut of Dr. Seuss film; 1953)". Lost Media Wiki. January 20, 2018.
  8. ^ Empire magazine; May 2023 issue; page 92
  9. ^ Thomas Fernsch, The Man Who Was Dr. Seuss (NY: New Century Books, 2001), pp. 104-105
  10. ^ Crowther, Bosley (June 20, 1953). "5,000 Fingers of Dr. T With Hayes, Matt Healy, Tommy Rettig, is at Criterion". The New York Times.
  11. ^ Judith Morgan and Neil Morgan, Dr. Seuss & Mr. Geisel: A Biography (NY: Da Capo Press, 1996). p. 136.
  12. ^ Hans Conried to Leonard Maltin, reprinted in The Real Stars, New York: Curtis Books, 1973, p. 84.
  13. ^ "The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved April 28, 2022.
  14. ^ Erickson, Glenn (April 27, 2001). "The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T". DVD Savant.
  15. ^ Bradshaw, Peter (March 28, 2002). "The 5,000 Fingers Of Dr T". The Guardian. Retrieved 2014-08-02.
  16. ^ Glaze, Violet (May 18, 2005). "The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T (1953)". Baltimore City Paper. Archived from the original on July 29, 2007. Retrieved 2014-08-02.
  17. ^ Schwartz, Dennis (October 15, 2008). "5,000 Fingers of Dr. T." Ozus' World Cinema Reviews. Roy Rowland (The Girl Hunters/Slander/Hit the Deck) directs this highly imaginative nightmare fantasy film, probably the best children's fantasy film ever made by Hollywood—even if it's rambling. Since it's so dark and surreal and can be subject to deep psychological analysis, it probably plays better for adults (children might be taken aback by the cruel adults and have real nightmares). ... It's as imaginatively framed as Alice in Wonderland, and follows the child's fantasy structure of The Wizard of Oz.
  18. ^ AV media The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T. DVD (region A/1) (Mill Creek Entertainment) oclc no. 956955388
  19. ^ AV media CD Dr. Seuss's The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T.: original motion picture soundtrack oclc no. 704281266 Film Score Monthly (November 2010)
  20. ^ The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T (Songs and Music from the Original Soundtrack). El - Media Cherry Red Records. 2007. OCLC 271222456. Archived from the original (CD) on 2015-01-23. Retrieved 2014-08-02.

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